First-ever Climate Grand Challenges Recognizes 27 Finalists


Congratulations to LIDS Principal Research Scientist Audun Botterud, co-lead on The MIT Low-Carbon Co-Design Institute—one of 27 projects selected as a finalist in MIT’s first ever Climate Grand Challenges competition. Also on the project team are LIDS Senior Research Scientist Marija Ilic, LIDS faculty member Saurabh Amin, LIDS Affiliate Member Anuradha Annaswamy, and colleagues.

All-carbon buildings, climate-resilient crops, and new tools to improve the prediction of extreme weather events are just a few of the 27 bold, interdisciplinary research projects selected as finalists from a field of almost 100 proposals in the first MIT Climate Grand Challenges competition. Each of the finalist teams received $100,000 to develop a comprehensive research and innovation plan. A subset of the finalists will make up a portfolio of multiyear projects that will receive additional funding and other support to develop high-impact, science-based mitigation and adaptation solutions on an accelerated basis. These flagship projects, which will be announced later this spring, will augment the work of the many MIT units already pursuing climate-related research activities.

“Climate change poses a suite of challenges of immense urgency, complexity and scale. At MIT, we are bringing our particular strengths to bear through our community — a rare concentration of ingenuity and determination, rooted in a vibrant innovation ecosystem,” President L. Rafael Reif says. “Through MIT's Climate Grand Challenges, we are engaging hundreds of our brilliant faculty and researchers in the search for solutions with enormous potential for impact.” The Climate Grand Challenges launched in July 2020 with the goal of mobilizing the entire MIT research community around developing solutions to some of the most complex unsolved problems in emissions reduction, climate change adaptation and resilience, risk forecasting, carbon removal, and understanding the human impacts of climate change. An event in April will showcase the flagship projects, bringing together public and private sector partners with the MIT teams to begin assembling the necessary resources for developing, implementing, and scaling these solutions rapidly. Part of a wide array of major climate programs outlined last year in “Fast Forward: MIT's Climate Action Plan for the Decade,” the Climate Grand Challenges focuses on problems where progress depends on the application of forefront knowledge in the physical, life, and social sciences and the advancement of cutting-edge technologies. “We don’t have the luxury of time in responding to the intensifying climate crisis,” says Vice President for Research Maria Zuber, who oversees the implementation of MIT’s climate action plan. “The Climate Grand Challenges are about marshaling the wide and deep knowledge and methods of the MIT community around transformative research that can help accelerate our collective response to climate change.”

If successful, the solutions will have tangible effects, changing the way people live and work. Examples of these new approaches range from developing cost-competitive long-term energy-storage systems to using drone technologies and artificial intelligence to study the role of the deep ocean in the climate crisis. Many projects also aim to increase the humanistic understanding of these phenomena, recognizing that technological advances alone will not address the widespread impacts of climate change, and a comparable behavioral and cultural shift is needed to stave off future threats. “To achieve net-zero emissions later this century we must deploy the tools and technologies we already have,” says Richard Lester, associate provost for international activities. “But we’re still far from having everything needed to get there in ways that are equitable and affordable. Nor do we have the solutions in hand that will allow communities — especially the most vulnerable ones — to adapt to the disruptions that will occur even if the world does get to net-zero. Climate Grand Challenges is creating a new opportunity for the MIT research community to attack some of these hard, unsolved problems, and to engage with partners in industry, government, and the nonprofit sector to accelerate the whole cycle of activities needed to implement solutions at scale.”

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